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Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry – Have the Pelicans Rushed Rebuilding around Anthony Davis?

Rebuild

Jocelyn Kinghorn | Flickr

When Tom Benson stepped in to buy the rudderless New Orleans Hornets from the NBA in the spring of 2012, he had no idea the basketball gods would favor his new franchise with the number one overall pick. Despite having just a 13.7% (fourth best) chance to win the lottery, the then Hornets secured what would become Anthony Davis, perhaps the best dual impact big man to enter the league in years.

After starting out with a traditional rebuild, New Orleans attempted to speed up the process last season and in doing so, ended up treading water and putting their future on an uncertain course.

With a new franchise anchor to build around in July of 2012, Dell Demps went to work on rebuilding the team. Demps elected to match the massive 4 year, $58 million offer sheet to the oft-injured Eric Gordon from the Suns. New Orleans then sent veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to the Wizards in exchange for the massive expiring contract of Rashard Lewis, who was later bought out. Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick also ended up in New Orleans after a three team trade with Phoenix and Minnesota.

After New Orleans matched his offer sheet, Gordon admitted to lingering knee problems which eventually cost him half the 2012-2013 season. However, the deal made sense long-term; Gordon was just 23 years old and had become a 20 point-per-game scorer. His injury, while personally unfortunate, resulted in the Pelicans finishing dead last in the Western conference, giving them a chance at a high draft selection for the second straight season.

In the June 2013 draft, the newly-dubbed Pelicans saw Nerlens Noel (coming off ACL surgery) slide to them at the 6th overall slot. For ten glorious minutes, the possibility of Davis and Noel blocking the Western Conference for a decade played out in our hearts and minds. But, instead of staying the course during a slow rebuild, Demps then flipped Noel and a future first round pick for Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday and a future second round pick (Pierre Jackson, in 2014) in an attempt  to shore up their roster immediately. The Pelicans continued full speed ahead into free agency, acquiring Tyreke Evans as part of a three team deal that sent Robin Lopez to the Trailblazers. Despite an interesting core, the injury bug bit the Pelicans and they finished 12th in the brutal Western conference.

This off-season the Pelicans sent their first round pick to Philadelphia, finishing the Jrue Holiday trade. Demps then sent Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson, and a protected 2015 first round pick to Houston in exchange for Omer Asik and Omri Casspri.

What exactly are the Pelicans rushing for? Davis, who is quickly evolving into one of the most terrifying players in the league, is just 21 years old. Trading for competency in Holiday and overpaying for mediocrity and inconsistency in Evans makes little sense in the long run. Losing Lopez for nothing only to trade for one year of Asik at the cost of a future first rounder will prove painful moving forward, even if Asik provides more defense and rebounding than Lopez might have. The Pelicans are also locked in to paying Holiday, Evans and Gordon a combined $36.5 million this season and $37.3 million in 2015-2016. They have to make decisions soon on both Ryan Anderson and Asik as well, and this is before they attempt to lock up Anthony Davis with an extension in the summer of 2015.

In a brutal Western conference, it’s questionable whether a rotation featuring Davis, Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Asik, and Ryan Anderson moves the needle at all.  Despite the Asik trade, it’s possible the Pelicans remain the worst team in their own division. The Spurs are the defending NBA Champions,the Rockets have the league’s best center and shooting guard, the Mavericks have retooled their weaknesses, and the Grizzlies remain one of the league’s most physically dominant teams.

The situation in New Orleans is particularly interesting as we watch the Timberwolves currently play out a years-long botched rebuilding process. Team building is a challenging process that needs both patience and luck. Outside of  the growth of Anthony Davis, the Pelicans don’t have near enough potential and far too much uncertainty. In an effort to rush through the rebuilding process, it seems quite possible all the Pelicans have done is stub their toes. By now, the Pelicans may be locked into a particular course and how that plays out with one of the league’s evolving superstars is worth keeping a close eye on.

Kirk Henderson

  • Kumar

    What a misinformed article. It operates on so many assumptions, and many false ones, that I don’t even know where to begin.

    RE: Anderson
    Who says we have to deal with him by 2015? He has two more years on his contract and he comes off the books right when the new TV deal sets in AND when Gordon comes off the books.

    RE: Asik. We have the capspace to deal with him. Washington did the same with Gortat, is anyone crucifying them? Or did they also not move the needle

    RE: Whats the rush?

    Why wait? Davis is clearly ready to win now. Why not surround him with pieces that are ready to compete from the get go? Or do you want another DMC or Love situation? Remind me which rookies from the previous year would have helped us at 6? If you say Nerlens, then you are sorely misinformed – that deal was agreed upon before the draft. By the time rookies from 2013 and 2014 are ready to contribute at an NBA level, AD will be going into his 4th year with a big fat extenstion, and we will still have somewhere between 20 million and 30 million in capspace based on the current projections. You may not buy into Holiday or Evans, but they are productive players who will give you much more in the next 2 years than any rookie will. You want the nitty gritty numbers? Take a look here: http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/07/23/anthony-davis-and-his-next-contract-with-the-new-orleans-pelicans/

    Next time, dig a bit deeper in your research before writing something like this.

    • Kirk Henderson

      I actually link to that BBS article in the post already. You can’t really deny that it wasn’t ideal to part with Lopez to end up with Asik at the cost of a first rounder. Comparing NO to Washington isn’t really a thing considering the Wizards made the second round and the Pelicans did not come close (though injuries played a part in keeping them out of the 7-8 race). AD is 21 years old, rushing along team building now, in a loaded Western conference is a risk in my opinion. But if the Pelicans make a run this year, then that opinion will have be proven incorrect.

      Thanks for your comment though.

      • Adam

        Washington made the second round in an AWFUL eastern conference. And if you told me I could get Asik for Lopez and a 1st round pick I’d do it in a heartbeat. Asik is a much better defender and that is what the Pelicans need. Also, I do not understand why writers hold first round picks in such high regard when a majority of them fail to move the needle at all. Nerlens Noel, who wouldn’t have been the pick by the way, has yet to play a minute and people are billing him as an all pro. Cannot understand that.

        • Kirk Henderson

          “I do not understand why writers hold first round picks in such high regard when a majority of them fail to move the needle at all.”

          Fair criticism. Arent opinions fun.

      • Kumar

        Lopez was signed as a stop gap. He was a virtual nobody on the bench before New Orleans. The front office clearly did not evision him as part of the future. This isn’t a knock on Lopez, he is what he is. But he leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to rebounding and is god awful at pick and roll defense. Comparing NO to Washington is entirely fair. It is almost the exact same situation. Washington had the No. 3 pick the previous year. They traded a protected 2014 1st and Okafor for an expiring Gortat. Identical to how New Orleans traded a protected 2015 1st for an expiring Asik. Both teams did this with playoffs in mind, yet everyone pats Washington on the back.

        • Kirk Henderson

          On Lopez, you may be right about his defense. I just know that he went to start on a WC team that made the playoffs and broke that franchises single season record for offensive rebounds.

          In terms of teams in a vacuum, I understand what you’re saying about Washington now. But that they play in a far inferior conference has to play a part in team building plans in my mind. They can (and did) make a leap because after miami and Indy, the east was bad.

          • Kumar

            Compare Lopez’s career best 14.5 rebounding rate to Omer’s career worst 18.1. The previous two year’s Omer has been 2nd and 3rd in the league respectively in rebounding rate posting a 22.0 and 21.7 – huge upgrade, not to mention the significantly better defense.

            But it seems that we differ on how much we value picks. Despite all our injuries this year, we only managed to secure what would have been the 10th pick. No matter how you slice it, middle lotto or 1st round picks aren’t going to push over the hump. It is better to try to compete now, and add when you have max level capspace and AD is a top 5 player.

          • Kirk Henderson

            I think that’s fair. I tend to value unknown assets like draft picks over known quantities most of the time. Mainly because the team I watch the most (Mavericks) havent drafted a functional player since…. uuuuhhhh

          • Kumar

            Mainly because you really haven’t been in the lottery, or the good part of the lottery. Statistically speaking, those picks rarely amount to something big. Not everyone can be SAS finding talent in the far corners of the draft that fits their system. And that is the idea behind moving this pick, that it won’t be a good one anyway. And I think that is fair. If we kept the exact same roster, and the only thing that changed was healthy, one would think we would finish much better than the 10th we finished this year. This is with the following players missing this amount of games:

            Evans: 10
            Davis: 15
            Gordon: 18
            Holiday: 48
            Anderson: 60

            Now add health to this roster along with our biggest hole at C being taken care of, there is a good reason to have high hopes.

          • Quailman

            hmm…

          • Nola_wil

            so in that respect, you believe the cavs possibly trading wiggins for love is a bad trade for the CAVS…right?

          • Kirk Henderson

            Initially, that was my reaction, but I really dont know how to feel after a fee weeks of talking about it.

      • Quailman

        Tyreke’s deal is front loaded (11.2mil this year, 10.7mil next, 10.2mil in final year) and Jrue’s is pretty much the reverse (9.9 this year, 10.5 next, 11.2 final). These are STEALS compared to the deals given to Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward. Yes, Eric Gordon is on the books this year, but he’ll have the option to opt out of his last year. No guarantees that he will (he probably won’t), but people throwing money around this off-season to marginally good players (*cough*Ben Gordon, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill*cough*) may make him see $$$.
        I appreciate your opinion on how the Pelicans rebuilt their team though. Building through the draft and surrounding the players with draft pick talent surely has worked in the past in great franchises like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets (recent years). If only the Pelicans could’ve modelled themselves after those franchises…

        • Kirk Henderson

          I think the Wolves are actually a great comparison. The wolves are a great argument for trying to move up any “timetable” as much as possible by securing known assets.

          • Nate

            I believe Quailman was being facetious about the Cavs, Wolves, Pistons, Jazz and Nuggets comparisons.

            It obviously didn’t work out for those teams.

          • Kirk Henderson

            Thanks for explaining English to me. Im well aware of his intent. What i did was use the wrong word… I should’ve said “contrast” because what the Wolves did through drafting (mainly because David Kahn is awful) clearly didn’t work

  • pr

    Jrue Holiday is 24 and has been to the ASG, not sure that qualifies as “competency.”

    The other moves are concerning though, yes.

  • thouse

    The moves are certainly debatable. Mortgaging the future when Davis is the future is risky. Signing 3 ball dominant guards to play in a ball stopping system is highly questionable.

    Yet I don’t know how much of a rush it is. The Pelicans are one of the youngest teams in the league. The oldest core guy is Asik at 28. Anderson, Gordon, Evans, and Holiday are respectively 26, 25, 24 and 24. It may not be enough to make noise in the West, but the team is putting out a competitive and still young team around Davis. They built a 4 year window w/ rookie contract Davis to get into the playoffs and show him they are serious about winning in New Orleans. It might not work, but same could be said for relying on the draft.

  • AD23forMVP

    What is being rushed? At the time of the moves we traded for a 23 year old Jrue Holiday, 23 year old Tyreke Evans, already had a 25 year old Ryan Anderson. The Pelicans also currently have one of the five youngest teams in the NBA. What is being rushed?

  • charles cohen

    I’ll chime in late. I think Demps just does not have the vision that a great GM such as Presti has with OKC. He has committed to similar style guards, but in his favor Evans has been much better than expected and Rivers has shown real potential at still 21. After watching Holiday though Demps might have been better off with Noels but he may not have drafted him anyway,and although I was impressed with Noels this summer I am very concerned about him holding up. He does not have AD’s frame.

    And besides Asik is a very underrated player, and if they took a Nerlens they may not have gotten him. Aminu (worthless) is gone, but they could you a quick 3. And if a Gordon goes, I think there will be players who want to play with the surreal Davis. Let’s see how things mesh before making hard conclusions.